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SYMPOSIUM: The National Theatre: A Place for Plays

The National Theatre: A Place for Plays

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Presented by the ABTT

in association with the National Theatre.

Symposium Directors: Paule Constable & Richard Pilbrow

A Symposium for the 40th Anniversary of the opening by Her Majesty the Queen of the National Theatre by Sir Denys Lasdun

Theatre and Architecture: A Discussion
Confrontation, Misunderstanding or Collaboration?
The NT’s Birthday — What next for our theatre?


Sunday 30 OCTOBER 

9:30AM – 8:00PM

Including a visit to the DORFMAN THEATRE and a demonstration of the DRUM REVOLVE

A conversation between theatre practitioners and the architectural and consulting community on the relationship between theatre and the design and architecture of theatre buildings. High profile speakers discuss how theatre makers at the National Theatre have worked in its spaces and contributed to its success as a place for plays, and consider the technological opportunities of the future.

“We must be fearless in using the arts as a crucible in which we come to understand who we are as individuals, as communities and as a nation.
A free exchange of ideas, talent and creativity.”
Rufus Norris, Director. National Theatre

 In collaboration with and sponsored by:


In collaboration with and sponsored by: Aedas Arts Team, Association of Lighting Designers (ALD), the Association of Sound Designers (ASD), Autograph, Buro 4, Charcoalblue, Creative Technology, ETC Ltd, ET Now, Foster Wilson Architects, GDS, Haworth Tompkins, the Institute of Theatre Consultants (IOTC), Martin by Harman, Pilbrow and Partners, the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD), the Society for Theatre Research (STR), Sound Space Vision, TAIT Stage Technologies, The Mackintosh Foundation, Theatreplan, Theatre Projects, Theatres Trust, White Light

Click here to see programme

ABTT Symposium 301016 A Place for Plays Cover

Concrete Reality: Architecture Tour

Click here to go to National Theatre Booking Page

Devised with Patrick Dillon, of NT Future architects Haworth Tompkins, come and see for yourself how Lasdun’s masterpiece is revealed anew.

  • The tour lasts around 90mins and takes you both outside and around the building
  • This tour does not include the auditoriums – backstage tours may be booked separately
  • To book, follow the link to Dates and Buy tickets
  • Tickets £12.50


Programme: Sunday 30th October 2016

Saturday 29 October

17:30 – 18:45: Introductory Architectural Tour

An introductory architectural tour of the National Theatre puts the history of Denys Ladsun’s iconic building in context ahead of Sunday’s symposium. Numbers strictly limited: ‘first come’ basis. Tickets £5 (in addition to the Symposium Fee).




10:15 – 10:30: INTRODUCTION

Richard Pilbrow and Paule Constable


Chairman: Professor Gavin Henderson CBE, Principal of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Opening Conversation: Director Rufus Norris with Architect Steve Tompkins discuss their past working relationship and collaborations, what they have asked of each other and of the theatre spaces they have worked with.

Panel: Set Designer Ian MacNeil and Sound Designer Paul Arditti, Theatre Consultants Anne Minors and Michael Holden and Acoustician Rob Harris respond.

How can the design team of user, architect, acoustician, and theatre design consultant ensure a more meaningful conversation? What can go wrong? The gap between permanent building and ever-fleeting performance. Is the voice of the stage practitioner sufficiently represented?

11:45 – 12:00: BREAK


Chair: Paule Constable
Technical Director at the National Theatre, Jonathan Suffolk; Lighting Designer, Emma Chapman; Sound Designer, Gareth Fry; Lighting, Rob Halliday and Lighting Control Manager at the National Theatre, Dan Murfin; Head of Digital Development at the National Theatre, Toby Coffey; Theatre Consultant, Peter Ruthven Hall; Manufacturer, Mark White.

What will the NT look like in 2056? In the 1970′s Richard Pilbrow and Dick Brett dreamt up the Drum Revolve, power flying, and advances in lighting and sound which impacted British and world stagecraft. Video, virtual reality and other technologies bring new opportunities and dangers. Where are we going and how do manufacturers help to shape the future?

13:00 – 14:15: LUNCH



Chairman: Richard Pilbrow
Panel: Iain Mackintosh, Richard Cowell, William Dudley, Jason Barnes, Tim Foster and Gavin Green.

Theatre architecture provides a framework for performance. What brings theatrical space to life? The NT’s third space, the Cottesloe, rediscovered a ‘classic’ form: the ‘Courtyard Theatre’. It combines the intimate and the epic. Its form and flexibility has been imitated around the world. Three-dimensional theatre, returning audiences to balconies and boxes that rediscover classic principles of an intimate actor audience relationship, has impacted theatre architecture everywhere. The panel discuss the international development of such theatre – and travels from The Mysteries to The Shaughraun.

15:15 – 15:45: BREAK


Chairman: Mark Shenton
Panel: Author: Dr Daniel Rosenthal; Producer: Nick Starr; Director: Lyndsey Turner; Architects: Patrick Dillon and Fred Pilbrow; Designer: Chloe Lamford; Theatre Consultant: David Staples.

Changing theatres. The NT theatres have brought an epic scale to British Theatre, yet the scale of the human performer remains a constant. New ‘fringe’ theatre spaces seem to nourish a more intimate human experience. Many issues emerge: what do theatre creators really desire; the role of the theatre design consultant; permanent architecture versus ephemeral theatre; changing technologies and audiences. At the NT our ‘lively’ theatre is preserved in concrete. The pros and cons of landmarking for a changing art form. What will be the impact of video distribution? Can we find a new audience? The excitement of Lasdun’s public spaces provides enhanced social and commercial opportunity. The best meeting place in town? Opportunities for educational outreach?

17:00 – 17:10 BREAK

17:10 – 18:10: Beating the Drum. A Demonstration of the Drum Revolve, with commentary by those who’ve put it through its paces. Technology and architecture in the service of theatre.

Chairman: Richard Pilbrow

Contributors: Designer, William Dudley; Stage Manager at the NT, Shane Thom; Technical Projects Manager at the NT, Mylan Lester; Head of Stage Engineering Automation and Rigging at the NT, Steve Colley; and Kevin Taylor, SVP Global Head of Automation, Tait Towers.

18:10 – 20:00: Celebration: Happy Birthday to the NT from the World of Backstage! 

Tickets £10 for those with Symposium tickets.

This event is now complete, tickets are no longer available.

Symposium Tickets Full Price £50

Reduced price with discount code:

for ABTT members: ONLY £37.50

 Celebration Ticket £10


Click here to book a ticket for the Symposium on the National Theatre Website.

Click here to contact the Symposium Producer for more information


In collaboration with and sponsored by:



National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX